Story:All About That Body (FUMB Interview)
All About That Body (FUMB Interview)
Written by Qovapryi
It's safe to say that when it was announced, back in summer 2013, the Galveston Sand Dollars' relocation to Honolulu was met by most insiders with mixed reaction.
To sports analysts and commentators of every species and affiliation, few good things could come from taking a franchise which had been struggling in its current emanation – chock full of bloated contracts but devoid of any true superstars after JTigerclaw's sudden retirement from the league – and moving it from its native Texas to one of the most remote locations in the United States. It didn't help that the early days of the Hawaiian franchise were filled with a number of head-scratching decisions that made people wonder whether the Kahunas' owner Makaio Kaimana – and most importantly, their general manager Wilmer Grehr – knew what they'd gotten themselves into.
Wasting both their first round draft picks on players who had been left out of the top 24? Check. Having to reschedule games to unusual time slots in order to cater to the national audience? Check. Unveiling hot pink alternate jerseys that wouldn't have been out of place on your average episode of Queer As Folk? Check.
For the first half of last season, their prediction turned out right. As we got treated to an endless stream of paeans celebrating Dakota's dynamic duo of Redding and Malone, as well as Winnipeg's Greatest Show on Court, most of the official press as well as the casual audience dismissed the Hawaii relocation as a limited phenomenon that would eventually fail to gather interest nation-wide, both in results and team marketability. Still, as much as their first season left a lot to be desired, small glimmers of hope came out of it – one of them being the same draft pick that had been criticized by most just a few months earlier: Scoonie Barrett, a bigfur from southern Michigan who had been overlooked by most insiders after the rookie combine and summer league. Not by Wilmer Grehr, though – Hawaii's cervine General Manager has always been adamant in defending his selection. “[He] may have been left out of the Top 24, but I was aware that he had managed to make the cusp. […] from what I had seen of Mr Barrett’s play, he suited the needs of the team quite well. I saw a young, enthusiastic player that, I felt, would be able to become a face of the team given time and training.”
Perhaps, the best way to fully understand the meaning behind Grehr's choice resides in a single stat. In spite of the lutrine's first season being a solid but unspectacular one for a lottery pick worth his salt (averaging 9.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game), Scoonie came in 6th in the Rookie of the Year voting discussion. To explain such an outcome, the Kahunas' head coach Richard Berk points his claw at other factors beyond his undoubted popularity, repeatedly acknowledging the otter's primary role in the locker room as well as on the court. “[Scoonie] has proved to be solid in his shots, as well as excellent with his rebounds and assists. It is not only these skills, but his leadership and ability to foster a strong team spirit, that will help him on the court in Hawaii.” Grehr, conversely, appraises his adaptability and work ethic – the lutrine spent the whole summer working on building the muscle mass he was lacking in the low post, which helped him to boost his numbers to 12 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game in the first ten games of the current season, already bettering his double-double count by five times. Although management brought in veteran centers Charles Burgh and Antonio Garza in order to supply for Quintessa Hartnett's departure to San Jose, the otter's starting position has never seemed to be in any danger.
Scoonie's impact on the Kahunas' development has been nothing but crucial, and we're just beginning to see the fruits of his hard labor. He has got everything he needs to become a full-fledged FBA superstar in a few years, and to help the Hawaiian franchise fulfilling a number of goals in the meanwhile – should Wilmer Grehr succeed in keeping the otter away from the number of general managers who already have plans to swoop in and snatch him up once he tests free agency this summer.
But what exactly Scoonie thinks about his first pro season, taking his first steps towards FBA elite on a struggling team and adapting to a different position in order to maximize his chances? The young sophomore told us that and much more.
Welcome into the world of Scoonie Barrett.
HARD WORK – We meet Scoonie for the first time in the Kahunas' locker room, an hour or so before the tip-off of a home game against the Santa Fe Whips. The otter is entertaining a small group of journalists with a few anecdotes about his college days – he seems perfectly at ease with his role, his body language revealing a quiet confidence that transcends his age. Sure, Gerry Cross would be the team's appointed leader, but at only twenty-three years old and with a single season under his belt, Scoonie can already pass for the Kahunas' second-in-command – and the position of his personal locker, next to the biggest one belonging to his captain and mentor, seems to reflect that.
Once he starts talking, however, it really becomes clear why the press, as well as the fans, seem to love him. Not often in my career as a sports reporter I've found a young guy that speaks his mind so easily, while at the same time keeping his public image constantly in check. He doesn't shy away from my questions (quite the contrary!) but he's always aware of what is he saying and who is he saying it to – and in a world where the talent of a player looks alarmingly related to the magnitude of his Twitter outbursts, Scoonie's demeanor makes for a refreshing change of pace. I start this interview asking the otter about how he recovered from his most recent injury, a shoulder contusion which sidelined him for five games at the tail end of last season.
How are you doing, Scoonie?
Pretty good, thanks. Totally recovered from last spring's shoulder injury, season's off to a good start and I'm looking forward to keep the momentum going.
Let's start this off with an obvious one. People who saw you on court during preseason couldn't help but notice a definite change in your body – you definitely look bigger and bulkier than you did at the end of last season. A first impression that gets confirmed with a quick glance to the Kahunas' media-guide currently listing you at 262 pounds, about twenty more than last spring. How and way did this change come to life?
Right in the middle of our losing streak last year, Coach Berk tried me at center and was quite pleased with the results. After a game against Winnipeg where I got schooled by Dirk [Von Stryker], though, he started talking about the need for me to bulk up, which to me was pretty strange in itself because you can tell I was never told that during my career, be it high school or college. (laughs)
I'm pretty sure at that point Berk wasn't already planning to begin this season with me as starting C, since the management was still trying to land Quvianuq, but after he didn't work out and Quintessa [Hartnett] signed with San Jose, I knew I had the potential to start the season as more than a dependable backup.
On what aspect of the game did you work the most this summer?
I spent countless hours in the weight room – first in Honolulu with our lead trainer Thorne Isaac, then back home in Michigan – mostly working to strengthen my core and lower body. I focused on a workout routine that wouldn't simply get me ready for the 80-game season, but at the same time would supply for the times I was at disadvantage against bigger players. Been getting a lot of reps up, done a number of things basketball players don't usually do – high-rep squats, deadlifts, shoulder press, we even tried chain dips for a while. I think you can see the results. (laughs)
Can you already feel the difference in your game?
I totally can. I'm more aggressive in the hole, I'm able to get more contact, I can dive for rebounds without fearing I'll be tipped over. Overall, I feel much more confident in my defensive game.
Did you change your nutrition along with your increased training?
Yeah, definitely. I've always tried to eat healthy – never been a huge fan of junk food, even back at college and high school. Yet when setting on such a hardcore training program, I know I have to take it to a whole different level. Burning all those calories and releasing floods of hormones through heavy lifting tends to really boost hunger, and it's easy to just let go and put on weight if you don't get somewhat strict on your eating regime.
Been avoiding red meat almost entirely – I'm more of a chicken and seafood guy. On the other paw, complex carbs, vegetables, gallons of milk - I can go down on those as much as I want to. No fast food, no fried goods unless once in a while. It's all about keeping stuff that won't do you good out of the kitchen.
What do you consider your best physical skill?
I pride myself on my abs and legs' strength and definition. It's amazing how my quads and thighs have cut up during this summer – I definitely had to buy bigger trousers. (laughs)
As for the torso, I can tell you tall people find it much tougher to build it up – getting a six-pack to come out is hard when you've got such long muscles. It's not just for show – a stronger core can do you wonders against weaker opposition, especially at the tail end of an 80-game season.
What's the biggest challenge you face with your body?
Keeping strong without putting on unnecessary fat. I got in the league at under 5% body fat, I was so lean I literally couldn't pinch skin from my stomach. Now I'm peaking at around 6/7% because of last summer's extensive training, but I really do think there are very few players out there who can legitimately claim to be fitter.
PRESENT AND FUTURE – Although that could definitely feel like a bold statement to the casual outsider, the Kahunas' lead trainer Thorne Isaac is willing to agree with it. “[Scoonie] is one of the best athletes I've ever worked with,” the argali tells us, as he observes the otter answering questions from our web colleagues, a strikingly white towel slung low over his bare, chiseled torso. “Against guys like Dan Q[uvianuq] or even rookies like Jake Turner or Ahti Nereus, he’s at a disadvantage in both height and weight. But there are some things we can’t change, and I feel he can still make up for this by being a faster, more agile center even if he lacks the usual size.” During his college experience at Mustelid Michigan, Scoonie looked like a perfect fit for the power forward position, if only for his offensive skills and silky mid-range jumpshot. Once in the FBA, though, his transition to center was decidedly smooth, and his defensive numbers have been increasing slowly but surely.
It's no wonder that Isaac, the very same individual who saw through Scoonie's skills and helped him adjust to the position change, is pleased to see that the management's gamble paid off. Quickly building the otter's weight, without taking away too much of his stamina while doing it, has definitely given the Kahunas' bigfur the extra boost he needed to be able to battle claw-to-claw under the rim against the likes of Raoul Kidane and Siegfried Romanoren. And though he's still far from having the same consideration as the two young stars, we're curious to hear Scoonie's feelings about his position within the Kahunas' roster and whether he thinks he can effectively lead the young franchise to its first successes.
Your draft pick was deemed as pretty controversial by the national press. How do you think landing a lottery pick influenced your rookie season?
It definitely brought in a lot of added pression, especially when Hawaii wasn't doing too well and press took turns into flaming our GM, Wilmer Grehr, for his decisions. Ultimately though, I guess that was instrumental into putting me in the right mindset to tackle my second season.
Who do you consider your biggest rival in the league and why?
I'd say [Zack] Tate from the Arctics, a fellow bigfur with an enormous potential and a lot to prove. We and Alaska have a whole story going on, as we meet up so many times every season, and he's the one I'd get to choose if I was to name only one. It's not a rivalry fueled by hatred - outside the court we're actually pretty tight, but that doesn't prevent us from going at each other like madbeasts every time we match up on the court. Basically we bring out the best of each other.
What's your biggest inspiration in the league, past or present?
Growing up as a Lorain fan, Gerry Cross was my favorite player – dividing the backcourt with him has been a dream coming true. He's a true-born leader, a fighter, and his willpower is something all of us youngsters we should try to mirror.
When it comes to who I look up the most, I'd have to go with Tortuga. His triumph in the last Finals represented the coronation of an Hall Of Fame-worthy career. Most otters I know see [Paul] as something above legend – he's the ultimate role model, the guy who represents the best in our species. I got to meet him briefly during last year's All-Star Weekend, he's an endless source of inspiration for every young baller.
Earlier in your career, you often were advertised as “Saul Tortuga's second coming”, even if your approach to basketball was diametrically opposed to PT's. How did you feel about this comparison?
On one paw, getting compared to such a skilled player while in senior high was definitely a humbling experience. After a while, though, it became a little too much to bear – it clashed with the natural desire to carve my own path and establish my legacy, not be it wrapped up in some other player's. The catch is that as my first season progressed, my playing style naturally gravitated towards PT's, so it seems that people were actually right about that! (laughs) I've finally come at piece with that comparison – nowadays, I steadily watch tapes of PT and try to implement some elements of his game into mine.
After losing Lancaster to Biloxi, Hawaii struggled to field a solid backcourt for the better part of last season, but they managed to land two solid guards like Masalia and Warren, then added Beaver State stellar prospect Aurora Goldshine with their #1 draft pick. What are Hawaii's goals for the current season?
Our minimum goal is to make the playoffs. Competition's tighter at West, but I believe we have what it takes to get that eighth spot. After that, well, it mostly depends on how we get there – our core group's physical condition and a bit of luck will be key to have the slightest chance to move on.
Another player that joined the Kahunas' ranks during free agency was Canadian center Charles Burgh, coming off a difficult year bouncing between Texas and Huntsville. After training camp and the first three weeks of regular season, what can you say about him?
Oh well...Chuck's a professional, first and foremost. He's all about business, whether in the gym or outside the court. He knows his stuff, he's not afraid to put money where his mouth is. Once the game is underway, he's the kind of guy you love to have on your team, and hate to play against. He's a fierce agonist, one of the best pure defensive players in the league – in my opinion he's a bit underrated because he hasn't been on a winning team yet. We'll make sure that changes (laughs)
Hawaii is an extremely young team, featuring no less than six rookies in his roster – including lottery picks Goldshine and Cross-Kiraly. How do you see these guys? Do you think they can be part of a future title contender?
They've all been awesome. Of course there's a level of uncertainty when you start training camp with so many new faces on the roster, but these guys are taking to it pretty good. Aurora's perfect for this franchise, a young, strong woman with a crazy good jumpshot and willingness to learn. Julian...man, Julian's just great. I know it sounds strange now, but I really think in a few years people will consider him the biggest steal of this draft class. He's got the potential, he's got the right attitude – once he learns how to rein in his inner demons, he'll show that on the court as well. Between those two and the other guys – Chris [Hengst], Tanya [Feckle], Jirra [Martin] and O'Rourke - Hawaii's got a very promising young core, which could be the foundation for a stable playoff contender.
Along with a few other Kahunas, you are due to enter free agency at the end of the current season. Are you set on chasing victories and fame in Honolulu, or are you already looking forward to bring your talent elsewhere?
All I know right now is that I want to be part of a winning franchise. I'd love to promise you I'm down for a few more seasons in Honolulu, but at this point in time I really can't – so many things can happen between now and August. It's true that I love Hawaii, we got one of the best fan bases in the FBA and I really want to keep rewarding our supporters for all their love and dedition to the Kahunas' cause. Our team's got good chemistry and I don't really want to abandon this group if I can choose to, but at the end of the day it's all about what's better for yourself.
In your opinion, what are the Kahunas lacking to start winning regularly?
Experience, no doubt. We got eleven players who have completed two seasons or less – you can guess how this gives us a distinct disadvantage against teams who are heavy on veterans. You see the last few teams which have won a title, all of 'em were the result of a project going on for a few years – Tennessee kept their starting five almost intact for a few seasons, the Bikers added a superstar like Redding to a strong core group who was mostly there three years before, Williamsburg had their “big three” thing going on for a few seasons before getting a ring. The good news is that we have Gerry and Teo [Masalia], two veterans who were on successful teams at some point in their career - they can help us gain that hunger and “winning mentality” which is key in order to break through as a team.
STRICTLY PERSONAL - “Make sure to be at the facilities by 11:30. After players are done with training, Scoonie's all yours.” Jyothi Bhanushali, the Kahunas' extremely kind PR manager, keeps her word. We get to the E Komo Mai training court slightly ahead of time – right as the players are engaged in a five-on-five practice match, white against blue. Scoonie's on the white team, and almost every play is passing through his webbed paws – whether he's setting the pick and rolls, dishing assists to the open guards or finishing with powerful rim-crushers. Between plays, he gives words of advice to the Kahunas' rookies, correcting mistakes and setting them up for the next offense – it's hard to believe that he used to be in their same spot just months ago.
Time's up, Coach Berk has had enough. Players are free to unwind, whether with a shootaround, a quick three-on-three under the basket or by putting themselves in the masseur's capable paws. Once Scoonie's strong back has been taken care of, we sit down with him again, this time tackling some more personal topics.
You grew up as a multi-sport athlete, playing football, basketball and athletics at different times during your teenage years. What are your best memories of that time?
No doubt about that - going 26-1 and winning basketball's state [championships] while in senior high. It took four years for our team to build the chemistry we needed to be successful and keep that edge against stronger teams. Learning that lesson was crucial for me to succeed as a college team captain, and hopefully now in the pros.
With a sister (Camilla Barrett -Ed.) narrowly missing a spot on the US Olympic swim team back in 2000, as well as two brothers (Sean and Rudyard) playing pro basketball in Europe, you certainly come from a very sports-oriented family. Just how much did your family push yourself towards sports, and then basketball?
We definitely were a sports-oriented family. All [of] us eight brothers have practiced sport at one point or another, at least until college level. We were all pretty supportive of each other, I remember being eight and traveling to the Olympic trials in San Francisco with the whole family to support Camilla. Basketball was a big passion - us younger brothers played endless two-on-twos on our backyard hoop, Sean and Lynn against Rudy and me. We all were pretty competitive, but it never went overboard – if anything, I'd say sports and competition brought us together on many levels. I'll always be thankful to my father – probably the biggest sports nut in whole Michigan – for introducing me to sports when I was a pup. It's an approach I'd totally want to transfer to my future sons or daughters.
You grew up in Holt, a small town in southern Michigan, not exactly the country's major basketball hub. How did that affect your career?
Made it that much harder for me to get noticed by college recruiters. I received offers from all around the Midwest, not just basketball but football as well since I used to do both, but the biggest basketball programs never called. I had a chat with Mustelid Michigan's coach, Jeffrey Brauer, and after that talk I never considered going elsewhere – there might have been better choices at the time but I really shared Coach Brauer's team vision and desire to build up a project that could get the team to legitimately take on America's best. We had a number of players from Michigan in our roster, and state spirit really ran high while I was there – I can safely say I don't regret a single minute of the time I spent in Dearborn. Is that a bond you maintain with other Michiganders in the FBA?
Kind of, especially the younger guys. Typhoons' Corbin Li'Arci, I've been playing against him ever since my high school days. Mike Timmids and me were rivals at college, [Scott] Paulichek as well though he left a couple years sooner.
INKED MILESTONES – Scoonie's Michigan roots run as deep as his Vietnamese ones. Both his father Stephen, a veteran from the Vietnam conflict, and his mother Huong Ha, a 57-year-old war refugee he met while on army duty, have been providing the maximum support to Scoonie's athletic career. Things have been rocky at times, especially because of their son's unattached nature. “Scoonie's always been a bit of a wild child,” Stephen says, “but he's got a good head on his shoulders. Ever since he was a little pup, he's been a free spirit and very independent – on his own terms. Back in high school, he didn't like having people telling him what to do – he preferred to discover it on his own, even if it implied making a mistake and getting blasted for it. But he's learned his lessons pretty well, and his behaviour in the league is proving it”. Which makes us wonder about another point of discussion between Scoonie and his family...
We can't go through this without talking about your tattoos. Where did your addiction begin, what inspired you and why are them so important to you?
Got my first, a small band on my ankle, during a vacation in the Pacific – but I became officially addicted while at college, when I met this amazingly skilled artist called Larsen Oe. All my tattoos are thought out and mean something that's close to my heart – I don't simply walk into a parlor and pick a design off the wall. Each and everyone of them represent a brief chapter in the story of my life – my Vietnamese heritage, my upbringing, college years, the road to the FBA Draft and so on.
Have you ever gotten flak for your tattoos? Do you enjoy the “tough guy” air they give you, or have you never really thought about it?
I definitely got flak for getting them, especially while at college. A local columnist said that my college should be ashamed for fielding a team captain who looked like he'd been coming straight from death row. A woman I met during a promotional meet-and-greet told me that I'm a terrible role model for all the Kahunas' kid fans, just because of my ink. And I can tell you my own parents, although giving me the utmost support and helping my reach every goal I set my eyes upon, weren't exactly happy to hear I planned to get a number of them. They definitely never encouraged me to getting them. (pauses)
I don't like to be labeled because of my choice to get extensive body art. I get tattoos because I want them to be looked at – it's about the need to express myself, show people I'm comfortable in my own skin and get them a little insight about what drives me to be the player and individual that I am and want to be. So if people like the “tough guy” flair I get from getting ink, that's totally fine with me – just not use them as a tool to berate my conduct on and off the court.
Last June you made the news for getting one particular tattoo. You posted a Twitter selfie showing off your fresh ink – a hibiscus flower, the symbol of Hawaii, sitting on your right chest...
I knew that was coming! (laughs) You wanna see it? (He stands up and unveils his chest tattoo.)
Whoa, really good work there. So...yeah, before the tip-off of every home game this season, you've made a habit of tapping it with your fist, as a way to show loyalty to Hawaii fans. Now, say you get traded to the other side of the league – how would you cope with that?
Well, to be honest, I haven't really given it much thought. Hawaii's my second home right now, I have a blast living here and sporting the hibiscus is a way to say “no matter what happens, nobody can take away the good times I had while playing here”. I totally see why fans could get angry at that if I got on another team, but in the end it's their problem. I just know I'll give my 100% to whichever team I end up playing for.
The Kahunas' roster is extremely varied by both species and origin, with many international players [Norwich IV, Masalia, Garza...] being part of it. Has it been difficult to build team chemistry and bond with them?
Not at all, we and the foreigners get along pretty swimmingly. At the end of the day, we're all young guys of similar ages, we play pro basketball and like to do more or less the same things – play videogames, go out for dinner, hang with friends and so on. A guy like Alfie [Norwich] loves doing the same things I do, no matter how different our personal backgrounds can be.
We often see you in the Kahunas' web TV videos, headphones in your ears, tuning out from the world as gametime is approaching. What are your favorite pre-game jams?
My pre-game playlist incorporates a number of genres – thug rap, classic rock, dance pop, heavy metal...any energetic pump-up tune that'll get my blood flowing and adrenaline gushing through my body. I listen to a bit of everything according to the situation, I do not like to get stuck on a particular artist or music style. I know some guys out there are big on those inspirational hip-hop tunes – Howlers' LaShawn Grandon and a couple other guys insisted to get “Till I Collapse” as our college team's official track – but really, it's not my thing. I don't think I'll ever go out and make a hip-hop album, for that matter. (laughs)
Who will be the Western Conference champion?
Alaska. After their first-round ouster last season, they're the one who want it the most. I feel they're gonna get their revenge.
Who'll finish on top in the Eastern?
(after a small pause) Huntsville.
Who will win the Finals?
The Arctics in six games.
Last question - how do you want your career to end?
I want recognition. I want to make the playoffs and be part of a winning team. Be a team leader on a regular title contender in a few years and eventually getting to win one, or better a few, rings. More than anything, though, I want to leave a tangible legacy to the generation of young ballers that will follow mine – while at the same time establishing myself as one of the great players of this generation. It may sound pretentious, and sure as fish it's one hell of a long shot, but that's what everyone's out there for.
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